With spring around the corner - despite the recent snowfall - thoughts turn to yard care.

Fertilizers should contain zero phosphorus, reminds Julie Kingsley, Hubbard County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) manager.

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If hiring a company to perform lawn maintenance, "make sure they are not using it."

The Hubbard County SWCD provides technical assistance for a wide range of improvement projects - all with the goal of protecting water quality and natural resources.

"In Minnesota, water belongs to everybody. Even if you're living on a lake or you're on a river," Kingsley noted. "One thing that's important about this area is that we're the headwaters. What we do here really affects the rest of the state."

Three major watersheds intersect in Hubbard County: The Leech Lake Watershed, the Upper Mississippi River Watershed and the Crow Wing River Watershed.

There are 89 minor watersheds throughout the county.

Creating a buffer zone of natural, native plants along lakeshore is beneficial for numerous reasons.

This alternative differs from the typical approach to home landscaping. It's called "lakescaping."

"People like their manicured, green golf course all the way down to the lake. That's not good for the wildlife, not good for the water," Kingsley said. "You need a buffer."

Native plant species have longer root systems than grass, which prevent soil erosion.

Geese love green grass, added Kingsley, but dislike taller, natural vegetation for fear of lurking predators.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources published a popular book entitled "Lakescaping for Wildlife and Water Quality."

"The lake edge plays a very important role in maintaining the quality of a lake," write the authors. "It functions as part of a whole living system (an ecosystem) of interacting climate, water, soil, plants and animals. This ecosystem reaches far beyond the lake edge and one individual's property to the top of the watershed and beyond."

Shoreland guide

A "Shoreland Guide to Lake Stewardship" was developed by the Local Water Plan and SWCD to educate shoreland owners and recreational users of our lakes. The guide explains the benefits of natural shorelines and wetlands, importance of curbing pollution, erosion, and run-off. It contains important permit and contact information. A downloadable copy is available at www.hubbardswcd.org/programs.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources offers "Score Your Shore," an online tool for landowners to evaluate the habitat on their lake lots.

"Restore Your Shore" (www.dnr.state.mn.us/rys) is another DNR tool for shoreland owners and professionals to use in implementing shoreland restoration and protection projects. It includes online native plant encyclopedia, with photos, to help lakeshore owners select suitable plants for their area. The list includes nearly 400 native plants.

Cost sharing

Hubbard County SWCD's cost-share program provides funds to share the cost of systems or practices for erosion control, sedimentation control or water quality improvements that are designed to protect and improve soil and water resources.

"We pay 50 percent and the landowner pays 50 percent," said Kingsley.

Some of these projects include, but are not limited to, Critical Area Stabilization, Diversions, Field Windbreaks, Grassed Waterway, Wastewater and Feedlot Runoff Control, Filter Strips, Sediment Basins, Streambank, Shoreland, and Roadside Protection, Stripcropping, Terraces, Unused Well Sealing, and Forestry Conservation Practices.

For more information, contact the SWCD at 732-0121.